It’s easy to label a player or team “chokers” when you’re following a single series. Every game matters and 8-14 days* can totally exonerate or delete months of hard work. One can rapidly forget how much randomness occurs in the playoffs, especially when you’re just rooting for one piece of laundry and watching everything else with less interest.
If you’re the type who tends to soak in the big picture of a given postseason - or even the bigger picture of multiple playoff years - then the picture gets much cloudier.
Long story short, it’s dangerous to jump to too many sweeping conclusions from a single series or postseason. Few series strengthen that argument quite like the San Jose Sharks’ shocking sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2013 quarterfinals.
The Canucks and Sharks are, in many ways, kindred spirits. Both have been contenders in the Western Conference for years now. Each franchise employs a general manager who seems to attract critiques as often as he invites praise. Those same guys have made their mistakes here and there, yet they’ve put together formidable groups of talent via bold trades, interesting free agent moves and timely drafts (although Canucks GM Mike Gillis’ predecessors supplied the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo).
Fittingly enough, many people have slammed each team because their respective windows have “closed.”
There is a key difference, however. Despite rabid fans who make “The Shark Tank” a fantastic atmosphere for a contest, playing - and failing - in San Jose doesn’t carry the same kind of angst-ridden urgency that it does in Vancouver.
Look, I can’t promise that Canucks management will fire Alain Vigneault … or that management itself will change with Gillis losing his job.** Still, it seems pretty obvious that some significant changes are coming.
If there’s any mercy, Roberto Luongo will be gone. Vigneault and/or Gillis might end up waving a different flag, too.
It’s just unclear if doing what many frustrated fans want to do - blowing it all up - is really the right move. With the Sedin twins on their way out and many peripheral players (plus Bobby Lou) on their way out, some modified version of this Canucks team might just be worthy of another shot.
PATIENCE PAYING OFF
Really, recent sports history reveals that it’s silly to turn your back on a quality player or team that still could have some gas in the tank. After all, many people assumed Dirk Nowitzki’s best chance at a title was through, yet the Dallas Mavericks shocked the mighty Miami Heat for the 2011 NBA title
The most amusing example of sports narrative redemption might just be Patrick Marleau’s first-round performance in 2013, though. Marleau somehow transformed from “gutless” to a hero who factored largely (four goals [including one GWG] and one assist for five points in four games) into the sweep.
No one wants to hear it, but most of those four games were close. Even the Game 3 meltdown was competitive up until … it wasn’t.
If any team can relate to how a sweep can be a lot closer than it sounds, it’s the Sharks (something similar happened to them against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010). It’s way too early to say that San Jose’s patience - fueled somewhat by the smaller media spotlight on their trials and tribulations - is a success.
Then again, maybe it all comes down to your standards for failures and success.
Jump for more playoff thoughts, including MAF’s latest faceplant.
* - At a time, depending upon how many rounds a squad might advance.
** - After all, Gillis is the guy who gave Luongo that onerous contract, not Vigneault.
FLEURY OF POOR ACTIVITY
In the broadest terms, the 2-2 tie between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins is probably a huge eyebrow-raiser for many. (Some of us hockey nerds wondered aloud if the Isles might just give the Penguins trouble; personally, I picked Pittsburgh in six.)
Still, in a shortened season, streaks are that much more relevant and the Islanders ended 2013 with as much momentum as one could ask for. While the Penguins were outstanding despite all the turmoil, those injury issues certainly opened the floor for questioning.
Oh yeah, there was also the concern that Marc-Andre Fleury might have some ugly flashbacks to the 2012 meltdown (er, series) against the Philadelphia Flyers.
That certainly seems to be the case as Fleury’s confidence has slipped so badly that Tomas Vokoun will be Game 5’s starter on Thursday. One might argue that this is the exact situation that Penguins GM Ray Shero invested $2 million per year into a backup for, but most honest Penguins execs would likely admit that this isn’t an ideal scenario.
It’s resoundingly positive for Vokoun owners, though, clearly.
I’d like to create an imaginary award called the “Danny Briere Playoff Performer” trophy. It’s awarded to the guy who’s had a “surprisingly” strong postseason output that really shouldn’t have been THAT surprising to begin with.
So far, the Briere goes to David Krejci, who leads the league with 10 points scored in the first four games of the Boston Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs series. That includes a game-breaking hat trick from Wednesday, which included the OT winner that gave Boston a 3-1 series lead.
The Bruins haven’t looked perfect, yet one of their strengths is that more than one player can be called upon to step up. At this moment, the B’s appear to be a good time to invest in, although it’s early.
Note: I reserve the right to disregard the Briere trophy if it isn’t interesting enough to discuss again this postseason.
A 3-2 series lead is far from a lock to move on and a 3-1 margin isn’t totally impregnable, but if you’re looking at postseason free agent pools, teams up in series/already advanced are the most reasonable place to make investments.
Still, if you have a quality member of the Red Wings and Blues, it’s likely too hasty to dump a top guy from that still-could-be-in-it team for a fringe fellow from a contender. Not going to lie, though; it’s difficult to totally badmouth those who are jumping ship on teams down 3-1: Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild.
ROTOWORLD LEAGUE UPDATE
1. Brian Rosenbaum - 217.60 points
2. Ryan Dadoun - 199.10
3. Steve Lampert - 181.20
4. Michael Finewax - 175.40
5. Kevin Brown - 164.60
6. Corey Abbott - 163.10
7. Marty York - 161.20
8. Jimmy Hascup - 160.10
9. Corey Griffin - 159.50
10. My terrible team - 137.10
Well, the postseason is going almost as poorly as possible for my merry band of misfits. I can’t say I’m shocked that my Minnesota Wild value gamble failed, but I am surprised by how completely Chicago has neutralized the team’s top trio (Zach Parise has one goal, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter lack a single point).
While my top investment team (Los Angeles Kings) could very well advance, every game against the Blues has been a low-scoring “battle of inches.” I also made a big investment in Carey Price (ouch) and a smaller one in Vancouver (sheesh), while none of my backup goalie gambles seem to be panning out.
Despite the floptastic results, I still think that strong playoff pool teams depend upon investing in specific, value-friendly teams. The format also puts a ton of emphasis on goaltending, but you probably already knew that.
Looking at the top three teams, Rosenbaum’s great start can be attributed to strong Bruins (Krejci, Nathan Horton), top Sharks (Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski) and Jonathan Quick. If I had to pick one deciding factor driving Dadoun’s team, it’s the strong work of the Islanders so far (see, gambling on lower seeds can work). Finally, Lampert’s biggest success seems to be Antti Niemi, who will safely play in round two.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Vancouver Canucks
- Roberto Luongo
- San Jose Sharks
- Alain Vigneault